Who the heck is Lewis Abernathy? Because I think he’s got a lot to answer for.
One of the things that really sets House 4 apart from the rest of the series, is the budget… Or rather the lack of budget. It appears to be the lowest budgeted entry in the franchise, and it really holds it back. You can see it in particular once we’re in the house. Other than the living room, the house looks extremely plain and unremarkable. It feels more like a cheap TV show set rather than a residence. That’s not surprising, considering that it is infact a set. You might have seen much of this set used previously in The People Under the Stairs. in fact, The People Under the Stairs were actually reusing the sets from this film, House 4 was shot first, filming in 1990 but was shelved indefinitely until it’s direct-to-video release in 1992. Of course when you don’t have a budget, what do you do? You get a star! Or at least you get a cameo. William Katt returns for this entry, although if you’re watching this for him then you’re probably going to be a bit disappointed. He’s killed off almost immediately (and only shot 2 days on set) because of a power struggle and land deal over what has to be the creepiest family homestead out in the middle of nowhere ever! How anybody could look at this is anything less than a haunted house I don’t know!
Katt’s character Roger Cobb has a new wife and daughter, and a brother that we’ve never heard of before. He and his brother argue over what to do with the house. Roger made a promise to his father that he wouldn’t sell, it’s a generational promise that his father had also made to his grandfather, who believed the house was magic. The Cobb family gets in a automobile accident, killing Roger (and just to make sure we’re certain of it, we actually see his wife sign the do not resuscitate order… if I hadn’t already known he was getting killed early on in this thing, I’m pretty sure I would have been pissed) and crippling the daughter. The wife, honoring her husband’s wishes refuses to sell and returns to the house to live in it. We now have our setup.
It becomes Terri Treas film, but the transition feels awkward because part of me still wants Roger Cobb to be the main character. It doesn’t help that she’s constantly flashing back to the accident and looking at photographs of Katt – it’s an attempt to keep the character in the film, but it also subverts Terri’s character of Kelly as the lead. She’s brought back to the house with her grandfather (Dabbs Greer, who happened to play the minister on Little House in the Prairie) and he tries to talk her out of staying, but she’s adamant. Staying here will be her way of honoring her husband’s wishes, she even brings him home. Roger Cobb’s ashes rest on the mantle of this old house.
An unexplained housekeeper arrives to help them whip the house in shape and they gather up all the old junk for a yard sale. Around this time the brother shows up again, shocked to find Kelly living there. He expected the house to pass to him, but that’s not the way it worked. He attempts to apply some pressure on her but she won’t sell.
Creepy things start to happen, brown goo from the faucets, a vision of a hand emerging from Roger’s ashes, and then there’s the singing Pizza – which is possibly the weirdest and most effective gag in the entire film (That’s Kane Hodder’s face in the pizza by the way). Then the nightmares begin. It’s enough to drive her to the local Native American shaman to try and search for answers. He tells her that the house is built over a sacred spring, a healing place for spirits. A great seal was built to seal the last of this power and to hide it, the house was built over it, and now Roger is trapped there.
In the meantime, the evil industrialists still want the property, and Roger’s brother has promised to sell it to them. They’re looking for a dumping ground for toxic waste and it’s a cartoonish and its portrayal of the villains. It’s a very typical Captain Planet sort of bad guy. Since they can’t get them to sell, he send some goons over in fright masks to scare the mother and daughter. Curiously enough, the house protects them. A dog shaped lamp on the daughter’s nightstand transforms into a real dog to chases the men away. It does more than that, it shows Kelly the way that her husband was murdered – it’s giving her visions and now she knows that it was Roger’s brother who murdered him. It’s time for one last showdown between her, the house, and the bad guys.
The movie is far less polished and effective than the previous entries, but it really does manage to capture the spirit of the House films. The real quibble here is the wholesale alteration of every canon – we know from the first film that Roger had a son, not a daughter. Sure, this could be a step daughter and a new wife, but it’s not really clear – in fact it’s really suggested that this is his biological daughter and he’s been with her all along. That’s in congruent with the events of a film a mere seven years prior. It’s weird because while House 4 may be the weakest to the series, it’s far more true to the franchise than the third entry was and in many ways I like it better as a sequel. What I really need, is something to bridge it back to the first film and address the continuity changes. Could someone write me a novel please?
I always forget just how spooky the opening of House is. They use extreme angles and weird lighting and negative images to heighten the spook factor and really give the house itself character, all before we even open the movie. It’s a great bit of misdirection and sets the tone well. In this house bad things can happen even in the daylight and you get that impression moving through the courtyard and inside the structure to discover the dead woman hanging there.
We are introduced to Roger Cobb, a divorced writer and Vietnam vet whose son vanished at his aunt’s house – the same aunt that we saw hanging at the beginning of the film. He’s having terrible writer’s block and nightmares of the war, and decides a change of scenery is in order. He heads over to the house to move in for a while.
The film takes its time, carefully setting up characters both living and dead, inside and outside of the house, even bringing the Aunt back as a ghostly doomsayer. The haunting starts slowly, with disembodied sounds in the house. It’s soft quietness is a stark contrast to the thunderously loud Vietnam flashback scenes that we get as Roger dreams and writes his book. In the house there’s a vision of his son, and the ghost of his aunt. It’s creepy but benign – that is, until finally he checks the closet… and the monsters begin to show up at midnight.
The closet monster by the way, is actually really worth taking a close look at. It’s the claws that really grabd your attention but pause the movie and check out the formless shanks of the creature. There’s multiple faces emerging out of the ultraslime on it’s misshapen body, possibly representative of people the house is taken. It was certainly enough to stir up Rogers curiosity and lead him to further explore the curse of the house, while simultaneously exploring his dark past in Vietnam. The flashbacks to the ‘Nam are amazing by the way. Richard Moll as Cobb’s partner Big Ben is perfectly cast and executed. Moll has always been good at a sort of over the top malevolence, a bad guy who is practically a cartoon but that you still love. It’s a far cry from his character on Night Court and this is one of his better performances. He’s not comic relief, but he is incredibly amusing. Comedy relief of course is coming from George Wendt, veteran of Cheers and Rodger Cobb’s next door neighbor. Wendt isn’t really trying to stretch here, he’s playing Norm, just as always. It’s sort of a give the people what they want appearance and it’s a role he understands well. Both men nicely balanced out William Katt’s Rodger Cobb, who has to balance an almost static rational character even as he begins to come unglued.
Indeed, the house wants him unglued, and it begins taunting him here and there. A remote control car making its way into the room by itself, a prized fish on the wall that stares and watches him as he goes, throwing a tantrum until Cobb dispatches it. Restless tools in the shed that come after him. The house is getting more aggressive by the moment.
All the commotion is enough to get the cops called on him, and some of the creepiest monsters start coming out as well. Interesting to note that the lead police man was Alan Autry, who would also go on to play one of the lead cops in the TV version of In the Heat of the Night.
Of course new complications arise when, after taking care of the monsters, another neighbor shows up. This time it’s a beautiful blonde who flirts with Rodger to score some free babysitting. It’s a surprisingly scary prospect. We’ve already lost one child in this house and the idea of bringing another one in fills me with dread. It’s a justified fear, the house goes after the new little boy, with monsters leading him away to try and take him as well. Cobb fights them off and rescues the little boy from the most precarious position in the fireplace chimney. Still, as perilous as the entire encounter is, the whole episode strikes me as an excuse to pad run times.
The haunting over all has brought about a change in Roger, and it seems now, he’s ready to fight. He discovers a clue in his aunt’s paintings and finds the way into the dark dimension that holds his son. It’s time for his final confrontation with the forces that plague this house.
House is one of the earliest horror movies that I remember watching, very likely because William Katt was in it and my parents knew I was a fan of him in the Greatest American Hero. I probably saw it on television so it was deemed safe, a judgment that couldn’t be more wrong. I found a terrifying but it’s the sort of horror film that made me love the genre and kept me coming back for more. Today it’s comfort food, an old favorites with a well-rounded story and and the brilliance of 1980s practical effects. I still find the monsters terrifying and the concept itself feels even more dire now that I’m a father. Of all the house films, this is the only one that’s truly scary and has earned its place as a horror classic
Great Lakes Comic-Con 2018
The first thing that struck me when I headed into Great Lakes Comic Con was how long the admission line was. It wound around the hallway, twice as long as I remember it being in past years. This isn’t a bad thing – I like GLCC and am pleased to see it grow….and besides. I had to get into my costume.
I learned from my experience at All-Americon that trying to get from the car into a convention center wearing a Lego suit is more trouble than it’s worth, so my buddy Rocky and I lugged it in and I struggled into the bulky outfit while we stood in line. By the time we hit the point where the line curve around on itself, I was suited up. After taking photos with half a dozen people, we rounded the corner to the registration table where bewildered bouncers tried to figure out how to get a wristband around my oversized mitt.
The idea for a Greatest American Hero in Lego came from a doodle I did around Christmastime. A whim when I learned William Katt would be joining us at GLCC. I still can’t believe I actually built this thing, but there I was making a beeline for his table. One side was partitioned off with curtains, and we made it in just before the line cut off (he had a panel coming up). As I shuffled in, the actor nearly leapt over the table to greet me, arms wide open with a huge grin on his face.
“Look at this! Just…LOOK at this!” he breathed in amazement. Suddenly were were surrounded by a dozen or more cameras snapping away. Rocky tried to find a vantage point and and failed, eventually pulling us aside to get our photo for my own collection.
As he signed a House photo for me, we chatted about his recent appearance on Supergirl. Despite my disappointment at it only being a cameo, he knew that going in – it turns out the producers were fans of The Greatest American Hero and just wanted to sneak him in there somewhere. I asked what it was like working with John Hart – the Lone ranger. The question gave him pause, as he realized I was talking about the episode of GAH called “My Heroes have always been Cowboys”.
“The thing is,” he responded thoughtfully, “My heroes have always REALLY been cowboys. My father made a living for years as a cowboy in westerns and we watched the Lone Ranger when I was growing up.” He paused, choking up a bit. “That was really special. Thank you for asking about it.”
Katt will tell you himself that he’s a chatty cathy and will talk your ear off at the table, but I knew he had a panel coming up and I cut it short. As Rocky and I wandered to the panel room, I looked over.
“Okay. I’m good. We can go now…it’s not going to get any better than that!”
He laughed. “We still have the costume contest at 4!” He was right of course. He hadn’t brought that wrestler Spider-Man all the way to Michigan for nothing.
After William Katt’s panel, I made it over to Jim Sternako’s talk by the bleacher section. Sternako is arguably one of the most important artists in comic…and he knows it. I admire the former, but don’t care for the latter. He announced that he was going to start his panel off by talking about his time as a magician and escape artist – but what he was REALLY talking about was his claim that Jack Kirby modeled Mr. Miracle after him. About thirty minuets in, the Lego suit started to weigh on me and it was time to take a break. I stashed it in the car and headed back to the vendor room to shop.
Fifty cent bins were everywhere. I never did find that $15 Superpowers Joker I passed on last year, but ended u with a nice stack of beat up silver age Flash, Spider-man and DC Comics presents. In one bin, I spied art 1 and 3 of Disney’s Dick Tracy series. I looked up at the vendor complaining goodnaturedly “Come on! No issue two???” I saw to my embarrassment that it was my friend Sean, who run NEO Comic Con. He shook his head back wit ha smile “If I could only find it!”
After watching the kids contest, it was back in costume for the rest of the day. A brief stop to harass the Ghostbusters and their undead consultant beetlejuice, then it was time for the adult costume contest. Backstage, Rocky and I joked and hung out with a security guard from 5 nights at freddy’s and a Homecoming Spider-Gwen as the Predators looked on. Nothing to see here folks. I cheered on my friend Elisa as she took third in the contest.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I love this show. I only wish it were closer to home. With it’s focus on comic guests and a couple of media personalities sprinkled through it’s just the righ size and balance and it’s no wonder it continues to grow…and no wonder it continues to be one of my regular stops. See you guys next year!